Monday, August 11, 2014

Three Takes on 20th Century Art

A recent vacation swing through Wisconsin and back by way of Chicago offered an opportunity to visit three art institutions, each with a focused exhibit worth seeing.

In Sheboygan, Wisconsin, at the John Michael Kohler Arts Center, I encountered a retrospective titled “Arts/Industry: Collaboration and Revelation,” highlighting the 40th anniversary of a program involving mainly ceramic artists and the large Kohler Company, known for its innovative kitchen and bathroom fittings and fixtures. Having lived in Sheboygan from 1970 to 1991, I recognized a few of the early works on view. The program has produced an astonishing variety of ceramic arts, through artists in residence at the factory.

In Milwaukee, the featured exhibit at the Milwaukee Art Museum was “Kandinsky: A Retrospective,” featuring paintings and other works by Russian-born Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) from the large collection at the Centre Pompidou in Paris. The works on view span 1900 to 1944, from Kandinsky’s experimentation with Art Nouveau through the Bauhaus years and culminating with his flirtations with Surrealism and Abstract Expressionism. (Fragment I for Composition VII from 1913 is shown above.)

Finally, at the Chicago Art Institute, I was happy to visit “Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary, 1926-1938,” billed as the “first major museum exhibition to focus exclusively on the breakthrough years of René Magritte” (1898-1967), a Surrealist responsible for some of the 20th Century’s most engaging images. From works on paper that first gained him recognition in Brussels, the exhibit moves forward through the Paris years when he was in contact with fellow Surrealists, such as André Breton, Salvador Dali, and Joan Miró. The exhibit concludes with works made in London and Brussels between 1937 and 1938, including the iconic Time Transfixed, in which a train engine emerges from a fireplace.

All three exhibits showcase aspects of 20th Century Modernism, from the eclectic mix of artists’ ceramic works in a 40-year show spanning late Modernism to Postmodernism, to Kandinsky’s experiments in Art Nouveau and Abstract Expressionism, and finally to Magritte’s emergence from early Impressionistic works to his solid place in Surrealism. A vacation that includes such an abundance of visual images is truly a marvel of coincidence.